Rarely can a person determine the outcome of a professional basketball game by a single shot, much less the first one. But in Game 5 of the NBA finals between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Miami Heat, when LeBron James (as he has done before) waltzed through a crowd of defenders and threw down a monstrous dunk, I turned to Mason and said, “It’s over.” The score was 2-0, Miami.
Of course we, the Thunder fans, had to endure two-and-a-half more hours of pummeling before facing the inevitable truth; at least this year, the Thunder had no answer to LeBron James’ Miami Heat. After winning game one, it felt like the Thunder were not only a step, but an entire game behind the Heat. Miami adjusted their attack in game two and overcame the Thunder. In game three, it felt like we were doing what we should have done in game two. In game four, we were playing game three. And in game five … hell, in game five, there were times when it felt like we weren’t playing at all. I’m sure the Thunder learned a lot of lessons during their 2012 playoff run, but if there was one thing we all learned, it’s that you can’t spot a team (much less the Eastern Conference Champions) 20+ points and expect to come back.
It appeared that the Thunder’s game plan was to not let LeBron James beat them. To that end, they double teamed him every time he was within half a mile of the paint. This left Miller and Battier open outside the arc, which the Heat reminded the Thunder of by dropping 14 3-point shot in Game 5. That’s not just incredible, it’s a playoff record. By focusing on James’ layups, they forgot about his passing ability; in a sense, their efforts to stop James from beating them allowed James to beat them.
There was a lot of talk of bad calls in the finals, calls that went in James’ favor. And not just talk by Thunder fans (let’s face it, that’s what sports fans do). CBS News recently ran an article titled In an NBA Finals full of 50-50 calls, LeBron is winning 100 percent of the time. Even the ABC commentators during the game repeatedly made reference to “phantom fouls,” calls that went in the Heat’s favor that even using slow-motion replay, they could not spot. I try not to let sports-based conspiracy theories cloud my enjoyment of the game, but there were definitely times throughout the series when it felt like the league had already decided that this was James’ year to win the title and they weren’t going to let actually playing the games get in the way of that. Late in Game 5, Derek Fisher grabbed LeBron James, committing a hard foul to prevent the shot. Fisher walked away with a Flagrant One foul; how dare he stop the (self-proclaimed) “king” from dunking on him?
Derek Fisher is 6’1″ and weighs 210 pounds. LeBron James is 6’8″, and 250 pounds. I sure hope LeBron James is okay.
The most disappointing part of losing the Finals isn’t losing; it’s that, while on a national stage, the people I’ve been raving about the Thunder to didn’t get a chance to see how good our team is. Based on their performance against the Heat, people (and rightly so) have begun questioning how the Thunder made it to the Finals and what they were doing there.
All I can say is the Thunder is a great team. They’ve given us, Oklahoma, a reason to be proud. And, they’re young. Durant and Westbrook, both of whom have signed for 5 years, are 23 years old. Harden, the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year, is just 22.
Here’s a picture of me when I was 22:
In my defense I was running around the house pretending to be a homeless garbage collector. Still, point taken.
The thing is, when you’re an Okie — and make no mistake, the Thunder players are Okies — you play with style and class, even when you’re losing. Other than Fisher’s horrible mistake of trying to block James from dunking, there were no hard or flagrant fouls, no technical fouls out of frustration. The Thunder continued to play. Even when they were losing, even when all legitimate hope was lost, they continued to play with dignity.
Can the same be said for the Whore of Akron? With three minutes left in the game the Heat’s starters stood on the sidelines, laughing and clapping and cheering. Whoever said “money can’t buy happiness” isn’t a fan of professional sports.
“It’s about damn time,” LeBron James said, in regards to the victory. Yes, the victory that was owed to “the king.” After watching LeBron James on the basketball court, I can tell you that he is definitely one of the most talented guys I’ve ever seen on the court. It’s too bad a championship ring still can’t make the guy likable.
So now all the ex-Seattle fans can be happy we lost, and all the Cleveland fans can stay mad that LeBron got what he wanted by abandoning them. Seems like a lot of negativity to me. Me, I’m going to focus on the positive, what what the Thunder did this year. Their third year in the league (last year), they made it to the playoffs. Their fourth year in the league (this year), they made it to the finals. To get there, they beat the returning champions (the Dallas Mavericks) in round one, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in round two, and the team with the best record in the west and undefeated (at that point) in the playoffs, the San Antonio Spurs. The Thunder had an amazing run, are an amazing team, and we look forward to a rematch next year against the Miami Heat in next year’s finals (that is, assuming that a healthy Chicago doesn’t squash them).
Thanks for an amazing year, Thunder. See you in 2013.